Aerosol Can Disposal and RCRA

There are several points to consider when determining how aerosol cans are regulated under RCRA.  As you will see, how the aerosol cans are regulated depends on where the aerosol cans (waste) are generated, their contents, how they are disposed (i.e. recycled, thrown away, etc.), and whether or not they have been punctured/vented/crushed/shredded.  In most cases, the ultimate regulatory determination must be made by the generator on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the individual state's policy/guidance regarding aerosol cans.

Where the aerosol cans (waste) are generated ...

Aerosol cans that are used for residential purposes are excluded from the definition of hazardous waste (40 CFR 261.4(b)(1)).  Therefore, these cans are not subject to RCRA and need not be discarded in any particular fashion.

Aerosol cans that are used in commercial/industrial settings are not excluded from the definition of hazardous waste (40 CFR 261.4(b)(1)), and thus, have the potential to be regulated under RCRA.  For these cans, the generator must make a determination as to their regulatory status.

Contents of aerosol cans ...

If the aerosol can originally contained a substance that could be regulated as a hazardous waste, then the can itself is also a hazardous waste unless it can be drained or emptied to less than 3% by weight of the total capacity of the container(40 CFR 261.7(b)(1)(1) & (111)).

However, the aerosol cans will most likely still contain propellant even when less than 3% by weight of the total capacity of the container remains.  Aerosol cans containing propellant are hazardous waste because the propellant makes the can reactive when in contact with a strong initiating force (i.e. intense pressure or heat).  Therefore, unless the aerosol cans can be completely emptied of propellant, the cans are hazardous waste, regardless of the quantity of substance remaining in the can.

Disposal method ...

An aerosol can that has been both punctured and drained of its contents would meet the definition of scrap metal (40 CFR 261.1(c)(6)), and if it is to be recycled, would be exempt from regulation under 40 CFR 261.6(a)(3)(iv).  Scrap metal that is recycled is exempt from RCRA regulation under this provision even if it is hazardous waste (provided the can is empty), so generators need not make a hazardous waste determination.

Scrap metal that is not recycled, however, is subject to the hazardous waste regulations if it is hazardous, so generators must make a hazardous waste determination.

Puncturing, venting, crushing, and shredding aerosol cans ...

In order to recycle steel aerosol cans, the generator must ensure that no propellant is present in the can.  EPA's current policy on puncturing, venting, crushing, and shredding aerosol cans for recycling is that the appropriate EPA Regional Office (or an authorized State agency) is to make a determination on a case-by-case basis.  This is because EPA: (1) believes these actions may meet the definition of treatment  found at 40 CFR 260.10, and (2) because there is considerable variation of environmental risks posed by different aerosol cans and their contents.

So, before you puncture, vent, crush, or shred your aerosol cans, be sure to contact either your State agency or your respective U.S. EPA Region Office for guidance and a determination.

September 10, 2002